Tuesday, 6 October 2009
Why many children are much better off in school than at home
Yesterday I mentioned briefly some of the children who started school at the same time as my daughter. Many of these children did not appear to have been raised in a modern industrial society. To be blunt, some of them looked as though they were hardly used to standing upright, never mind learning to read and write. Having done quite a bit of home visiting in the past, I was not particularly surprised to see these children; I know only too well what sort of homes they come from. It is not that their families are poor in the conventional meaning of the word. They have 72 inch plasma screen televisions in every room, computers, games consoles, no books, but a huge book-shelf full of DVDs and computer games. In some of these homes, there is literally no printed matter at all. Needless to say they usually have a TV in their bedrooms. Meals are eaten with their fingers while squatting round the television. Often the house will reek of stale urine because nobody has got round to teaching the kids to control their bladders. Spoken language is hardly used at all in such homes, except for control and rebuke. The very concept of a conversation, as in the sense of one person speaking and then remaining silent while another person speaks is quite alien to them.
For these children, school is a rescue, a last chance for society to reclaim its most vulnerable members from the descent into barbarism. Leave those kids where they are and in a generation or two they will be crawling around on all fours, having lost all skills save for the ability to wield a remote control. At least at school there is a slender chance that some of these children might actually make something of their lives, might make some sort of intellectual progress. They will not see books unless they attend school. They will not learn to read and write, nor encounter even the most basic historical knowledge. It really is this desperate.
I talked yesterday about support groups with which I used to be involved when my daughter was a baby. The sort of activities that we did with those small children were very basic, yet utterly vital for them if they were to have the remotest chance of benefiting from school when they were five. For instance, simple turn taking games. The idea of taking a turn, waiting for somebody else to do something before you have a go, is wholly unknown in many homes in the land. This skill is of course essential even for a conversation. At school, a child will be completely unable to learn, if he does not realise that while the teacher is speaking, he must sit quietly and wait until she has stopped talking before he speaks himself. This simple skill, which most of the sort of parents one finds on home education message boards take for granted, is altogether lacking in many small children when they start school. They have never actually taken part in a conversation and so do not know the rules. If they want something, they will grab it. If frustrated, they throw spectacular tantrums. Some of them void urine without even being aware that there might be a special time and place to do so.
If education for these children did not mean compulsory schooling, then their outlook would be bleak indeed. If their parents realised that it was not legally necessary to send them to school, then they would not bother to get dressed in the morning to take them to school. I am glad indeed that most parents believe schooling to be required by law! Without this false idea, the outlook for many thousands of children in this country would be pretty grim. Ironically, it is children from such homes who sometimes start refusing to go to school at all as teenagers. If the parents hear about home education, they might then deregister them, which is an absolute disaster for the child concerned. It is children from these homes, both the very young and the teenagers, about whom so many professionals are worried. Tony Mooney, a well known home education inspector, has been castigated often on the HE-UK and EO lists for talking about children on council estates who have been withdrawn from school. This is not snobbishness but genuine concern for the welfare and future prospects of children for whom a lifetime on state benefits is the only realistic prospect. Regular attendance at school offers them the only available route away from this depressing way of life.